Budget battle erupts at City Hall

Protesters added insult to injury as Mayor Rob Ford’s attempt to trim the Toronto city budget ran into a solid roadblock of opposition, both inside and outside City Hall.

Hundreds protesters from across the city were met with barricades and pepper spray after trying to push past a line of police guards in order to gain entry into City Hall at around 5:30 Tuesday afternoon, just before city councillors voted to pass the city’s 2012 operating budget. Five persons were arrested at the scene, police report.

The protesters had gathered outside to voice their opposition to proposed budget cuts. Inside, city councillors were voting on an amendment which would take some of the pain out of the mayor’s drive to ‘cut the gravy’.

“The occupy movement and also the unions have come to protest against Rob Ford and corporate greed,” said one protester, who identified herself as a supporter of the Occupy movement.

A contingent from the Canadian Union of Public Employees, CUPE, also put on a show of force, shouting “save good jobs, save good jobs!” CUPE’s membership, inside and outside city workers, are facing the prospect of seeing union jobs such as garbage collection being farmed out to the private sector .

As the night wore on protesters rushed a line of police guarding the front entrance to City Hall; a clash that resulted in the arrests. By 8:30 p.m. the demonstration moved off from Nathan Phillips Square, marching and chanting along the streets of downtown to the Toronto Police Service’s 52 Division, where it was believed those arrested were being held.

Protesters poured onto the street in front of the police station halting streetcars and oncoming traffic. Police manned a barricade preventing the demonstrators from entering the station.

In council chambers meanwhile, a motion brought forward by rookie councillor Josh Colle (Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence) was passed by a vote of 23 to 21. Colle’s amendment restores funding to several services that were facing the budget axe; those services include cuts to some TTC bus routes, children’s services, youth centers in priority neighbourhoods, and continued funding for homeless shelters.

Ford ally, councillor Giorgio Mammoliti (Ward 7, York West) attempted to have Colle’s amendment split, requiring councillors to vote on each item separately.

Colle however dug in and, with the backing of city council’s left and moderate voices, agreed to vote on the entire package. The amendment restores some $15 million in funds to those services under threat.